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Between Bodies Lie

Between Bodies Lie

Автором H.M. Blanc

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Between Bodies Lie

Автором H.M. Blanc

327 pages
5 hours
Oct 10, 2012


Between Bodies Lie Attempting to flee his declining literary career and failing relationship, Cristobal Porter travels to an island in the tropics to research his latest novel. There he meets Ana Kaplan, the wife of an American diplomat, and is immediately drawn to her by what he perceives as the shared depth of their loneliness. When Porters young mistress arrives on the island and enters into an affair with Anas husband, it is the catalyst that draws Ana and Porter closer together. Porters relationship with Ana evolves tentatively, amidst turmoil and resistance, sparking in him a creative revolution - even as the island around them threatens revolt. Exploring the connections between life, death, art and love, Porter discovers a faith that can offer redemption, even as he is forced to come to grips with the unforgiving terrain between ideology and reality, and the insurmountable distances which between bodies lie... -------------------------------------------- KIRKUS' Review


A disillusioned writer travels to the tropics in search of inspiration in Blancs emotionally astute debut novel.

Cristobal Porter is a British writer whose work is in decline. With each novel garnering less critical acclaim than the last, the author spends more time looking out of windows than he does writing. Badgered by his publisher and tormented by a difficult first relationship following the death of his wife, he retreats to an unnamed island in the tropics, where civil unrest lurks beneath the surface of everyday life. On his arrival, Porter uneasily slips into society following his introduction to the slick yet lascivious American diplomat, Jack Kaplan. Kaplans wife, the enigmatic Ana, is a patron of the arts, and Porter finds himself lingering at the edge of her cocktail party, staring at the backs of artists and well-heeled expats. While Kaplan dismisses the art scene, Ana finds a kindred spirit in Porter, and a bond tentatively forms between them. Porter goes about his book research but is almost immediately encumbered by the unannounced arrival of Nadia, his dangerously seductive young mistress. As his yearning for Ana grows stronger, Porter recognizes a growing intimacy between Nadia and Kaplan. When Ana finally learns of her husbands affair, she draws Porter closer, but a tragic secret from her past rocks their budding relationship. As the plot unfolds, the whispers of uprising grow louder. Blanc is supremely sensitive to the trials and tribulations of the creative process; he writes with the wisdom of an established author grown weary of the literary scene. Some readers may consider the depiction of an emotionally disheveled yet unconventionally dashing novelist to be somewhat clichd, but that thought is far outweighed by Blancs brilliantly detailed study of human connections and disconnections, in which even the most indiscernible movements of body, mind and heart are painstakingly recognized and charted.

A masterfully written exploration of the beauty and cruelty of love, as sharp as it is sensual.

Oct 10, 2012

Об авторе

H. M. Blanc was born in Ontario, Canada and raised in the Caribbean Republic of Trinidad & Tobago. He studied Film and Creative Writing at York University. Over the years he has worked as a Telemarketer, Dish Washer, Sales Clerk, Handy Man, and Art Gallery Manager, among other things. Between Bodies Lie is his first novel.

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Between Bodies Lie - H.M. Blanc



Between bodies of land, across bodies of water, between our bodies, these sheets stretched the distance of oceans, folds like white-crested waves… They carry us on tides almost meeting in the touch of flesh, then carried away and set adrift.

Some mysteries are solvable, some truths knowable. Other truths shift like the surface of the water, depthless and laced with quicksilver where she stands knee-deep, her skirt hem clenched in her hands, looking back to the shore where he sits rooted and unable to follow.

Stories must have shape. His must be sold. So he takes the shapeless, the formless, in his own way falsifying the truth, in his own way making it more real. He binds it to his own myth, like the person we present to others, sowing sorrow to reap he knows not what.

He writes: We are stories we tell to others, subtly crafted, to make ourselves more interesting. We must give shape and form to what is shapeless, formless. In the end the truth becomes blurred.

Is it any mystery that we never fully know one another?


Porter is drunk.

I’m leaving tomorrow, he says.

He holds the phone, black framed by the corner of his mouth, speaking perhaps to his agent, but then again, perhaps it is to someone else on the other end of the line. These things do not matter, only that he is departing in a day’s time.

Are you sure you won’t reconsider? His mouth is still against the well of the receiver, but he addresses a third party in the shadows of the room. A light goes on somewhere in the distance, pulling the last remnants of his focus out of that world at the other end of the wire.

Her mind is a wonder that rewards exploration . . . Or is it ‘exploitation’? Is it plunder that will make her yield? Need she be sacked to gain her accolades?

His mind absently scribbles its invisible prose.

She is from some Eastern European country, something with a ‘v’ or a ‘z’ in the title. He cannot remember now which one. Not now, with his mind thick diluted and polluted, washed with gold liquor. Would it make a difference if he could recall, could learn her culture and heritage? To then have to sift through: what she accepted and rejected, what she assimilated, what she rebelled against, what she treasured and what despised. Perhaps she despises him. Is it because of her culture, or perhaps because of his?

And yet he has always felt so distant from any idea of his own culture. He is washed clean of country, detached from history, all of them only environments to observe. He comes away from tradition as a piece of art someone else has created, a painting he would not see without its frame, bound in on four sides and kept separate from his present. Or so he tells himself.

Her hair is almost black, her eyes almost black and both glossed and shimmer. He thinks of a black animal’s pelt. Those eyes look at him now where he slouches on the sofa, her lips parted over sharp teeth about to speak. There is something of the predator stalking another predator. He would be the wounded.

Are you packed? she asks with her Slavic accent. She moves towards him, comes to stand between his knees, shedding her dress that falls like snakeskin, and she climbs over him and he sees only images.

Images and frames.

A bird flies from the wire, it travels continents, traverses oceans but cannot bound the distance between you and me

There is a crossing — a crossing and a cross — something meditatively unreal, a weight to carry like a dream within a dream, as elusive as his hope. He sits by the window and his hand caresses the armrest as the plane banks.

I am a writer but I spend more time thinking, looking out of windows. Wasted ink blots my mind and runs the pages rampant.

As the plane descends, he looks through the clouds, through the canopy of leaves wondering what he will find down there.

There was a call — taken place before; before the plane ride, before the alcohol and making love on the sofa, her eyes like a predator’s — a conversation with the black plastic handset that caused a guide to be arranged from another part of the world.

You need to do something, his agent had pleaded.

When I come back, Peter, I will have something. A story to sell, he added silently.

God, I hope so, Tobey… for your sake.

Tobey, a schoolboy’s shortening for his name: Cristobal.

Cristobal, a good Spanish name for such a poor Englishman.

I am Cristobal, on my birth certificate, on my deathbed. A word given me for convenience, and I have attached stigmas of loss, loneliness, ambition and failure to it, so many false fruit stuck clumsily by the mind to this title, by others also.

He said nothing in response to Peter, shielded himself with silence and then the weak dismissive, I’ll see you when I get back, Peter. Don’t worry.

He steps from the plane and the air currents slide over him, like a warm towel over his head and under his collar, and the sweat comes immediately, oiling all angles. I will meet you there, said the girl with the eyes of a predator. I will find you. He remembers it now that he sees where ‘there’ is, has an image of where he is to be found.

He collects his luggage, the carousel moving in a slow mesmeric jounce, loose tiles swinging. One can almost picture the bicycle chain beneath, the man behind the curtain of plastic strips, pedalling to nowhere. Wizard, grant me some courage, a heart. An overweight duffle-bag worms its way out instead, followed by a worn Samsonite. He heaves them off of the carousel and abandons the makeshift Oz.

The walls are freshly painted white. There are modern looking stores with show-windows and lit signs and bored looking attendants dolled up for some misguided pageant; Miss Information, Miss Direction, they compete in indifference. Customers move towards them and the attendants look annoyed, the tourists oblivious. They look down on each other in turn. It all smells of disinfectant. He moves slowly through the haphazard line through customs and out onto the street where Joseph immediately spots him.

Joseph is what he would expect an island guide to be. Joseph’s skin is muddy, his hair extremely short and greying, and eyes claiming a glimpse of Filipino. He looks like he would belong amidst the locals, bustling aimlessly, except for the Bermuda shorts and bright polo shirt which set him apart and bridge the gap to the tourist. His manner is openly friendly, without the suspicious reserve, shyness or zoological curiosity of the other locals’ looks.

Hello, Mr. Porter, he smiles with surprisingly perfect teeth, his narrow eyes narrowing further, radiating friendly wrinkles. He reaches out his hand and Porter shakes it. Joseph’s hand is thick, firm and feels of dried leather. His eyes are dark irises surrounded by yellowed whites, as if stained by nicotine. Porter also notices a glassy shine and thinks of a reservation Indian he once knew.

There is a car and a drive. Joseph does not stop talking for the entire trip to the hotel, but Porter is too tired to absorb much. He sits low in the backseat watching the faded green fields go by on the side of the highway. The highway dips and rolls as Joseph drives over it, the sprawling hollow beast of the rusted Cadillac gliding and bobbing like Jim’s raft and he Huck at the stern. Mississippi Asphalt.

Bits of Joseph’s ramble get through: African, Indian — East Indian mind you, not American Indian — and Chi-nee mostly… a slave heritage, although the Chi-nee came as labourers, so technically they weren’t slaves… most now are mixed though… everybody sleepin’ with everybody… if local sex was politics there would be peace on earth, he laughs, . . . used to be a British colony, then a Spanish colony… the French try their hand too, but it didn’t take… America practically own the place too during the war… life here is peaceful… very laid back, very laid back…

Porter lays back, takes in the slate blue sky and smoked clouds, the fields and shanty towns that drift by between the snatches of red sunspots that flash behind his eyelids. They bounce, crude cradle rocker this Cadillac — Porter in the belly of a tin whale. They pass under a flyover and then Porter can see the city beyond the dashboard, slowly at first, the buildings seem to gather and rise at the speed Joseph drives. There would appear to be no planning; cement buildings cobbled together around colonial style houses, squeezing them until some burst their seams, popping paintjobs and spilling splintered wood from their shells. Some have done what they could to conform, playing up their bright quaintness because people can’t crush something so quaint, so cute — ask the dolphin, ask the tuna.

They reach the guest house, a small bare affair. Whitewashed walls peeling on the outside, retreating from tiny rivers and tributaries that run through plaster. Plants; fanning fronds and palm leaves, yellowed and sagging, drooping shrubbery, all near the failing end of rustic charm. A low wall surrounds the meagre yard and supports long iron bars connected across the top to form its fence (a style he associates, not unpleasantly, with cemeteries). They walk up the short path, the bare concrete stairs three steps up and inside.

There are a couple of flies and a lazy revolving fan that rocks from where it is suspended from the ceiling. The floor is tiled, a clay Aztec pattern, the walls a pale yellow, the thinnest coat over bare concrete. Joseph escorts him to the small check-in counter and the girl, attractive and dark-skinned in a loose dress. Joseph speaks to her in a quick jabbering that Porter can make little of in his numbed state but recognizes as a Patois, a broken cocktail of French, Spanish, English and Portuguese.

Joseph laughs. The woman looks at Joseph with mild hostility then smiles at Porter and proffers a key with a credit-card-sized rectangular keychain. Mister Porter, welcome. I hope you enjoy your stay, she parrots in heavily-accented English.

Porter smiles back and her eyes soften slightly. He has that effect; something seemingly sophisticated about his looks and non-threatening in his physicality, its show of age suggesting that, while he can still get it up, sex is not the first thing on his mind. She must be in her thirties — older than Nadia — not thin but with soft curves hinted at beneath the jersey fabric. He takes the key, noting the shine of her skin, something warm and sexual in her scent, and makes his way up the narrow wooden staircase to his room on the third floor. He tries to take his two cases but Joseph insists on toting them, although he grunts and jostles them against the walls at each landing.

The room looks more comfortable than he would have expected from the lobby; not large, but open, a queen-sized bed centred against one wall, an old wooden wardrobe and straight ahead two wooden French-doors. A fan spins lazily overhead, more firmly secured than the one in the lobby. Porter checks the washroom; white tiled shower-stall, a toilet that flushes and running water in the basin. He splashes some water on his face while Joseph drops the bags clumsily beside the bed.

Porter comes out and sees Joseph standing near the door waiting. Thank you, Porter says.

Joseph smiles, waves a hand as if to say it was nothing. Uncertainly, Porter removes some bills from his wallet and offers them, but Joseph holds up his hands and shakes his head chuckling. Joseph pulls out his own wallet and removes a card, This is the number to reach me at. You call me anytime you need to go anywhere — middle of the night, no worries. He hands Porter the card. Porter takes it with his free hand and in the same movement, like an exchange, he feels Joseph take the money gently from his other hand. Porter looks up. Joseph smiles, shakes the money once, Thank you, Mr. Porter, and he begins to leave. Remember, you call anytime, that number there. He closes the door behind him and Porter is left alone with the ticking of the fan.

He walks to the French-doors and swings them open. There is the swell of light traffic and people moving about, voices calling in the sing-song local dialect. He feels a warm breeze and he can see the rooftops of concrete buildings and galvanize, electric wires sagging from pole to pole. The air is just short of clean, and imbued with dust and salt from the ocean, like a light sweat — the scent of living.

He rests his bags upon the bed and begins the process of unpacking, laying out items in a ritual of materialization. He claims his new dwelling with items from his suitcase and bags. Piece by piece — a toothbrush, a comb, shirts placed on hangers — all serve to imprint his existence upon his physical surroundings, to signal who he is and call himself into being.

When he is done, he surveys the room from the corner of the bed and it still feels empty, his meagre items swallowed by the bare white walls and warm air. The bed feels equally empty, not yet claimed by nights of sleep or explored in lovemaking. He slides his hand across the bare surface with its hollow spring.

He hefts his camera and goes out onto the balcony and snaps a couple of random shots of the street below, the rooftops and sky. There is the sense of discovery awaiting him, followed immediately by the fear of failure. Officially, he is here to do research for his latest novel. In truth, he is hoping to find the story here, for in his mind he has nothing, not even a beginning.

He goes back into the room and pulls a notebook and pen from his travel bag. It is easier for him to order his thoughts with pen and paper, quicker than the agonized stagger of his two-fingered typing on his laptop, while peering at letters past his glasses which he would have to don for the task. This way his hand can keep up with his thoughts. And he even prefers to have the reference of lines crossed out, those inked scars a record of the mistakes made to arrive at any truth he may reach.

I am the outsider, everywhere I go. I come to this country and become a stranger in a strange land, because it is all I can do to make my state seem more natural — for it is unnatural to be a stranger in one’s own house. And so geography changes while I remain the stranger.

The phone line crackles occasionally with static. He holds the receiver close in the dark. The sun has gone down but the wind has died and he sits on the mattress in his room sweating.

So you are coming?

Yes, yes, I told you, as soon as I am finished here. He is pleased to hear the smile in her voice, can even miss her in a way. In the heat he can imagine her thin body beneath the sheer-dress she shed like snake-skin. You give me the address, she says.

Yes, I left all the information there. But tell me when you’re coming. I’ll pick you up at the airport.

A laugh. No, I told you, I will find you. What, are you afraid I will catch you with one of the local girls?

Nadia, he says reproachfully, but he smiles because she is laughing, flirting with him. This is what it takes, a million miles to rekindle some kind of closeness, this distance to bond.

Are the local girls pretty? I hear they are very pretty.

He thinks of the girl at the check-in counter, attractive dark skin, a primal stir in him. I don’t know, he says, I haven’t been out yet. Just got in this afternoon and I’m exhausted. Only person I’ve met is my guide, Joseph.

Joseph? Is he handsome? She is teasing again. He can hear her grin, pictures her sharp teeth, dark bangs, finger toying in the phone line.

He thinks of Joseph, wrinkles and leather, the full paunch. He just may be your Adonis.

She laughs, Sounds lovely.

I’m going to go. I’m exhausted.

Okay. No girls for you tonight. Just do it yourself and think of me.

And will you think of me, when you are?

She giggles. No, I will think of Joseph, the Adonis. More laughter. I am serious now, think of me when you do it.

Nadia, again he admonishes, but he does, he thinks of her.

In his sleep he dreams of her, bathed in sweat and tangled in the sheets, but at some point she becomes the dark-skinned girl from downstairs, or at least an approximation of, since he finds it difficult to recall her clearly. It is involuntary, but in the movement of his dream it does not seem unnatural, and she holds on to him as though to comfort him, as though to console him for something. He wakes up aroused but feeling uncomfortable, troubled by an aching loneliness and the closeness he felt to that stranger in his dream, tenderness he did not feel when it was Nadia.

The room is hot and stifling even with the windows open as they are now. He digs out his cigarettes and lighter from the travel bag and lights up, hoping the smoke will dispel the few mosquitoes and calm his insides. There is occasional noise from the street outside, a car running past, the splintering of a bottle, the call of a dog some distance off, all brief and barren. There is enough light that he can see the room clearly, as though it is not shrouded in night but only a shadow. He looks out of the doors at the navy sky, wondering at the conspiracies that shape a life to bring him here, so far out of his element. How he struggles to learn human nature, but cannot begin to master his own.

In this setting the question gnaws at his extremities: Who are you? and it carries none of the weight of deep philosophy, but a certain simplicity that makes him feel a fool for lacking the inkling of a response.


He wakes to what sounds like the blaring of a horn strapped to a loose motor rattling. Then there is an acrid scent of chemical. By the time he looks out from the balcony he can barely make-out the back of the truck through the cloud of smoke issuing behind it. He closes the doors and goes inside, taking refuge in the shower.

Washed and dressed, he thinks to call Joseph but decides instead to do a quick survey of the area on foot. Downstairs there is no one at the counter and he is a bit relieved. He steps out into the warm air of the street, looks left, then right and begins to walk towards what looks like the main avenue.

There is a difference in the colours here. At home everything is grey and beige, here there are oranges, pinks, the buildings and the people, but they are not the vibrant colours depicted in the brochures and television adverts, these have been washed and faded by weather and detergents, so that even these colours tend towards a spectrum more earthen.

He attracts looks as he passes the stalls of fruits and vegetables. He does not smile, only perhaps the fleeting corner of his narrow lips tweaking at a few, a curt nod of acknowledgement and a casual, Good morning, in response. He does not smile because he has travelled enough to know that a stranger walking down the sidewalk smiling at everyone announces himself as a foreigner. Only a tourist, a man on vacation and financially comfortable has no worries in a place like this. And to announce himself as such is to announce himself a potential target. So his face remains for the most part serious. He is watchful, he observes, which is what he is here to do anyway.

He sees an awning with two plastic tables and chairs squat beneath and he ducks into the small shop before he is absolutely certain it is what he is looking for. Inside is small and warm, a narrow strip divided by a dimly lit display case full of pastries and bread. The air is musty. A fan hums somewhere, unseen and unfelt. A dark and elderly East Indian woman, the kind who is all sinew and bone and will live forever, stands behind the case and smiles at him. May I help you? she asks in a voice that sounds surprisingly English.

He allows himself a smile in return. Do you have coffee?

Yes. How would you like it? she immediately turns to a counter behind her and pours and mixes.

Black, one sugar. And, um, two of these.

She hands him the coffee and the two pastries resembling squared croissants and waits patiently as he fumbles through the foreign money, eventually handing her exact. She smiles and nods as he heads outside, seats himself at one of the tables and watches the crowds move by. He sips the coffee which is rich and bitter, and decides this will be his morning ritual even before he bites into the flaky pastry.

In the back of Joseph’s Cadillac he watches the downtown streets stroll by, populated with a variety of colours and coloured people. He can count the whites on his finger if he was so inclined and it toys with concepts of minority outside of economic bounds. What impact does that have; a financially influential minority? He thinks of the uprising which occurred here on this island and tries to picture violence on these streets.

He asks Joseph for his thoughts on the coup, but Joseph sighs dismissively. To be honest, Mr. Porter, it doesn’t make much difference to the common working man. We are a friendly people. Politicians are crooks the world over, we just accept that. The average man here concerns himself with putting food on his plate and enjoying any spare time he can manage. You can’t change them greedy politicians. He is quiet for a moment as his words hang in the humidity and the car pulls up to a modern building of glass framed by solid concrete. Though maybe now and then it’s a good idea for somebody to shake them up, let them know there’s only so much thieving they can thief. Porter cannot help a smile and Joseph looks over his beefy shoulder smiling too. Here you go, Mr. Porter. I’ll wait here for you.

Porter enters the building of clean white walls and glass where the local offices of the UN are housed. At the security desk he asks for Jack Kaplan. A phone call is made and a brief elevator ride later Porter is introducing himself.

Jack. It is the quintessential American name and Jack Kaplan is quintessentially American. Perhaps a bit more suave than the average, but every bit as self-assured and commanding as one would expect from the movies; dark eyes, square jaw (only just beginning to soften with age) and his quickly assessing stare, he is a leader and a survivor. Porter shakes Kaplan’s hand and immediately feels dominated by the man — the Kaplans of the world who conquer, while the Porters watch passively and are conquered. He looks Porter over once gripping firmly, recognizes Porter as unthreatening and so welcomes him.

Nice to meet you, Chris, he immediately claims the right of familiarity — a first act of occupation. Walk with me, will ya. Kaplan walks brusquely, with Porter trying to keep up, a too-old-lackey in tow. Things are always crazy here before a long weekend, and it seems like every other weekend is a long one. It’s amazing how many holidays these people have. Still, we get the time off too, so it’s not so bad.

He follows Kaplan down a hall where the American sticks his head into a couple of offices, calling a quick word before marching off. Eventually they reach an office with an outer room, an attractive local sitting at a desk, Kaplan’s secretary. Porter sees Kaplan’s manner shift slightly as he leans close over the girl’s shoulder, a light smile on his face. Are these the faxes from Nigeria? he asks, stretching down to lift the corner of pages in front of her, his arm against her shoulder. His face is close beside hers, although he appears to be absorbed in scanning the documents. Porter can read no blush in her coffee complexion. She looks at Porter from behind dark-framed glasses quickly and he smiles, and she looks back down and Porter is uncertain whether her discomfort is a result of Kaplan’s proximity or simply Porter’s observation of it. He wonders if they are lovers, the display for Porter’s benefit, Kaplan marking his territory, a dance of virility to discourage Porter and enforce the status of Alpha male. Kaplan straightens up then gestures Porter into the beige office where Porter in his beige suit can blend into even further obscurity.

I over-exaggerate it, really, Kaplan says as he drops into his padded seat behind the broad desk from where he commands. Truth is, nothing of real urgency happens here. And thank God for that, because the locals would have no idea how to function in an emergency. There’s no such thing as expedience here. Two speeds: slow and stop. Still we try not to fall into bad habits, so we treat everything as urgent. The result is we end up with a lot of free time. He smiles. He is charismatic, has a heavy charm of his own. That’s how we have time to entertain people like you. You know; writers and such. An integral part of our job really is socializing, entertaining. And there is an art to it.

Porter smiles

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